It used to be that getting rid of cable and switching to an all-streaming solution meant you probably would be giving up your local channels. And it almost certainly meant that you'd lose the ability to record them, at least easily.
That's changed a good bit in 2018. Many streaming services now include the major local broadcast channels. And products like Tablo (and to a different extent, HDHomerun) have made watching over-the-air TV throughout your home a relatively simple endeavor.
Now it's Amazon's turn with a combination over-the-air TV tuner/digital record — the Amazon Fire TV Recast.
An excellent, if expensive, addition.
A way to watch and record over-the-air TV is a great addition to Amazon Fire TV, and the recast makes it easy. It also makes it expensive.
- Easy to set up
- Integrates well with Fire TV
- Simple DVR function
- Works with Amazon Alexa
- Is fairly expensive
- Only works with Fire TV
- Transcoding hurts video quality
- Max 2 simultaneous streams
It's easy and it works great
Amazon Fire TV Recast What I Liked
The Amazon Fire TV Recast very much resembles products we've seen before. Most specifically, Tablo, which takes over-the-air TV and broadcasts it through your home network, while also allowing you to easily record shows.
The Recast takes that premise and makes it even easier. No accounts to create. No monthly billing for guide access. No external hard drives to deal with. You just buy the thing, plug it in, set it up, and start watching (and recording) on an Amazon Fire TV device, on an Android or iOS device, or on the Amazon Echo Show.
There are two models from which to choose. One has two tuners and a 500-gigabyte hard drive. It costs $229. The other doubles both of those specs — four tuners and a 1-terabyte hard drive — and costs $279. These are not inexpensive OTA streamers.
The setup is extremely simple. Plug in an antenna. Plug in the power. Use your phone (or a Fire TV device) to set the thing up on your network. Scan for channels. Watch TV. That's it.
Amazon has done a brilliant job integration the Recast into its home screen. Scroll down a few rows, and there are all of your live channels. (Interesting is that if you also subscribed to Amazon Prime Video Channels — say, HBO, those channels also will appear in this home screen section.) It's all perfectly integrated — maybe to a fault. I actually passed over this section the first few times. But there it is.
And Amazon's on-screen guide may be the best I've seen from anyone who does this sort of thing. It's fast (Amazon is known for obsessing exactly as much as it should over that sort of thing), and easy to read.
Same goes for the experience of recording shows. I couldn't even tell you if there were instructions in the box for that sort of thing, because at no time would I have needed them. Everything works through the Alexa Voice Remote exactly how you'd expect it to. And if voice control is more of your thing, you can just tell Alexa to pause or rewind or record or delete or whatever.
The Amazon Fire TV Recast is, in a word, simple.
But there are limitations
Amazon Fire TV Recast What I Didn't Like
That's not to say the Recast isn't without its faults. Or, rather, caveats. It's not that there's really anything wrong with the Recast — you just need to know its limitations.
First — and most important — is that this works with Amazon Fire TV devices. That includes the new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, and the lesser (and more expensive) Fire TV Cube. You're able to watch all this OTA through any of those devices, as well as through the Amazon Fire TV (not the Prime Video) app on an Android or iOS device.
If you're using Apple TV or Roku or Android TV or something else, then the Recast is not for you. It just won't work. That's a big limitation.
This is a great product, but there are limitations.
Second is that you can only watch up to two streams simultaneously. That's whether you're using the two-tuner Recast or the four-tuner recast. There are all sorts of permutations for watching live and recording in the background, but you can only watch on two devices at once. For some folks, that may be just fine. And if so, great. But in my four-person household, I've bumped up against that plenty of times with other OTA tuners — especially if we're hosting a football party or the like.
What are all the recording and live-streaming permutations, you ask? Here's how Amazon does the math:
With a 2-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:
- Record up to 2 programs at once,
- Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording another;
- Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording 2 programs in the background; OR
- Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once.
With a 4-tuner Fire TV Recast, you can either:
- Record up to 4 programs at once;
- Watch up to 1 live and 1 recorded program on different devices, while recording up to 3 other programs in the background;
- Watch up to 2 recorded programs on different devices, while recording up to 4 programs in the background; OR
- Watch up to 2 live programs on different devices at once while recording up to 2 other programs in the background.
So there are options. But the live streaming is what's most important to me. Your requirements may well vary.
Then there's the matter of video quality. Over-the-air TV comes in at a maximum resolution of 1080i. (Think pretty much like the 1080p you're used to hearing about, just not quite the same, and not quite as good.) Sometimes it'll come in at 720p or even 480p. But never more than 1080i. But the Recast (and like it, Tablo) takes the incoming video and transcodes it to a different format, to make it easier to stream and record. And in doing so, you lose some quality. The Fire TV Recast will never play back a show at anything better than 720p resolution.
That might not be a big deal if you're watching on your phone, or on the Echo Show. You probably won't notice the lower resolution. But it's definitely noticeable on my 4K TV in the living room. That's one thing that's kept me with HDHomerun all these years, and it's a big strike (in my eyes, anyway) against the Recast.
Again, none of those things are what I'd consider to be flaws in the Fire TV Recast. It's doing what it's supposed to do, and it's doing it very well. But those are limitations in what it can do.
Amazon Fire TV Recast
Should You Buy It? Maybe
The Amazon Fire TV Recast is a very good product. It's a great little piece of tech because it's easy to set up, and easy to use, and it integrates into the Amazon Fire TV beautifully. It is very well done.
The question you have to ask yourself is whether the limitations are deal-breakers. If you don't use an Amazon Fire TV — either one of the things you plug in, like the Fire TV Stick 4K or Fire TV Cube, or an Amazon Fire TV Edition (which uses Amazon Fire TV as its operating system) or intend to only watch on a phone or tablet or Echo Show — then you're out of luck. Full stop.
If you don't care about recording over-the-air TV, then save yourself some money and look elsewhere, too. Either HDHomerun or Tablo. Because Fire TV Recast is expensive. You can get a four-tuner HDHomerun Quatro for half the price of a Recast.
And then there's the matter of video quality. Watching 1080i video transcoded and compressed to within an inch of its life just isn't worth it for me — particularly if I'm able to watch the same thing through a streaming service.
So ask yourself if those things are worth it for you. If so? Snag a Recast. You'll be happy with it. But if not, there are better options.
The best over-the-air antennas
Who doesn't like free TV, right? And it turns out that in 2018 there's still plenty to watch — free and legal — if you've got a decent enough over-the-air antenna. For the cost of a decent meal at the Sizzler you can get an antenna that pulls in stations from dozens of miles away, piping free 1080i content straight into your TV.
All you have to do is pick the right one for you.
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